Despite the hopes pinned upon it, this year got off to a bumpy start. U.S. tensions with Iran, raging wildfires in Australia and earthquakes in Puerto Rico dominated the news. In times like these, “I have to believe we’re going to win because we have no other option but to win and radically change everything that’s going on right now,” says Sarah Lyons, author of Revolutionary Witchcraft: A Guide to Magical Activism. “If being backed up against the wall makes you fight harder, then that’s my mood going into 2020.”
The author will present her book and give a lecture at Asheville Raven & Crone on Friday, Feb. 7.
While Lyons points out that witchcraft is, indeed, having a moment (#altarsofinstagram is a thing; witch-related T-shirts are all over Etsy and Cafe Press and any number of similar sites). But instead of penning a book on the history of the practice or its spells and rituals, Lyons decided to focus on political action. “I think there are a lot of people right now who want to get involved politically and don’t really know how, and there are also a lot of people who want to be more involved in witchcraft and magic and don’t really know how, either,” she says. Books about witchcraft and feminism “tend to stop at a surface, pop-culture level. … I don’t think that encompasses the entirety of the power of the witch or the power of magic.”
So Lyons set out to write a guidebook that would allow readers to examine how politics and magic are more closely aligned than many realize “because both are about how we reckon with and imagine power in our world,” she says.
The book, a slim and personable volume, includes sections on contemporary revolutionary history (including the 2016-17 Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock and the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle) and magic in action (connecting with ancestors, making sigils), as well some introductory spellwork and practices, such as meditation and using the wheel of the year.
There are also practical techniques, such as power mapping, which Lyons learned as an organizer in New York City. “The second I heard of it, I thought it was a deeply magical thing because politics manifests itself in the physical but it, itself, is not physical,” she says. The technique helps activists “figure out the ways [a] problem is manifesting, who has the power to fix it, and what power we have to use to accomplish our goals,” Lyons explains in her book.
The writer developed a skill for explaining this and other complex ideas because “until recently it was still a very weird thing to tell people you were a witch or believed in magic,” she says. “For most of my life I had to have a catalog of reasonable explanations for why I believe what I believe — a history lesson and a physics lesson waiting to go.”
Lyons was called to magic and witchcraft as a young person but didn’t realize until she was a teen that it could be a practice. As for championing causes, her mother was a politician, and Lyons was active in high school and college. The 2016 election followed soon after she graduated “and was a wake-up call for a lot of people that we were entering a different paradigm,” she says. “There was a crazy confluence of events where I was fired from a job I hated and an hour later got a call to go to Standing Rock to help out.” She’s also been an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America in New York for the past several years.
In Revolutionary Witchcraft, Lyons encourages the confluence of magic and political activism on many levels but also takes a decidedly nonconsumerist stand, reminding readers that “capitalism gets its power from alienation while witchcraft gets its power from relationships.” She tells Xpress, “It’s important to remember that witchcraft is a DIY practice.”
At the same time, the writer does note that, unlike many other spiritual or civic groups, witches don’t have community centers and tend to gather around stores selling magical products and hosting witch- and pagan-related events — such as Asheville Raven & Crone. Lyons says she discovered the local shop on a previous trip to Asheville. “I really loved it and I wanted to come back,” she says. “When I was putting together this book tour, I wanted to go to places that felt like home-away-from-home, and Asheville felt like the perfect place.”
WHO: Sarah Lyons presents Revolutionary Witchcraft
WHERE: Asheville Raven & Crone, 555 Merrimon Ave., ashevilleravenandcrone.com
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m.